Thursday, August 16, 2007

Carragher: Let's Finish The Job

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher agrees with his manager Rafa Benitez that despite tonight's crucial 1-0 away win in the Third Qualifying round of the Champions League in Toulouse, the Reds cannot start thinking hey are in the money-spinning group stage yet.

Although their fans will now expect Liverpool to clinch qualification as a formality in the second leg at Anfield, Benitez urged caution, saying:

"We must not think we are already through. This tie is not yet over, it is just one goal. We know."

And ahead of next week's second leg in Liverpool, Carragher was also cautious, telling Setanta Sports: "Over the last few years we have had good results away and then lost at home.

"It was far from great but the away goal makes it a lot easier.

"It was a great goal from Andriy. We were not playing particularly well in the first half but it was a great finish."

Carragher also underlined the fact that would not be making himself available for England selection again, despite recent meetings with manager Steve McClaren.

He said: "I had a good couple of chats. We got on great but I just felt at my age others are a lot younger than me and I just want to concentrate fully on Liverpool."

Reds ' striker Peter Crouch, who provided the headed assist for Andriy Voronin's superb winner, explained: "I managed to flick it on and from there it was all about Andriy.

"It was a superb finish and fitting to win any match."

Crouch added: "It was extremely hot out there for all the lads.

"Maybe the performance could have been better but it was a great result."

Crouch, who was omitted from the Liverpool squad for the game at Aston Villa on Saturday, said he expected Benitez to rotate the squad again for Sunday's game at home to Chelsea.

"I was disappointed not to be involved in the first game but the manager's proved he does like to rotate," said Crouch.

"I'm sure there will be changes again when we play Chelsea.

"I gave up a year and a half ago trying to second guess his teams. You can never tell which team he's going to play."

Meanwhile defeated Toulouse coach, Elie Baup, said that his team had found the blazing heat as well as the quality of Liverpool difficult to cope with.

He said: "In those conditions it is hard to keep running and trying to create things when you are playing against a side with such experience and quality.

"Our players lack the experience of playing in this competition and they found Liverpool's ability and technical quality hard to cope with out there."

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CL Report: Liverpool Ease To Victory In Stifling Toulouse

Toulouse 0-1 Liverpool

A fairly forgettable game played in stifling heat in Toulouse was settled by a memorable goal two minutes before half-time from Ukaine striker Andriy Voronin. His goal puts Liverpool in a strong position, ahead of the second leg of this qualifier on Merseyside, to progress through to the lucrative group stage of the Champions League.

The decisive strike came almost out of nowhere towards the end of a fairly languid and uneventful first half. But it was a goal of rare quality. Peter Crouch flicked on a long ball from Steve Finnan for Voronin to control with his back to goal before swivelling and spearing an unstoppable shot into the top corner from outside the penalty area.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez recalled Peter Crouch and Javier Mascherano, while John Arne Riise, Daniel Agger and Fernando Torres were named on the bench.

Benitez denied that his selection was influenced by Sunday's Premier League clash against Chelsea, saying: "Toulouse could be dangerous and we need to be really focused."

Nevertheless it certainly seemed that Chelsea - and the conditions - were a factor in a quiet, slow-paced opening.

Following the furore over insufficient tickets for Liverpool fans at the Athens final, only an estimated 640 dedicated core of Reds supporters made the trip to France, and the first action they had to cheer came when Steven Gerrard, fresh from that marvellous free-kick against Aston Villa on Saturday, sent another set-piece just past the post.

Gerrard was playing just ahead of Mascherano in midfield, while Voronin was playing off Peter Crouch's shoulder with two wingers supporting on the flanks.

Liverpool, looking comfortable, enjoyed plenty of possession, but chances were in short supply as the players paced themselves. Crouch nipped in to exploit a sloppy back pass to release Yossi Benayoun, but Toulouse's defence snuffed out the danger.

The hosts eventually produced their first attempt on target when Johan Elmander shot low but Jamie Carragher took the sting out of it, leaving Pepe Reina with a routine save to make.

Carragher then produced a sliding clearance as Paulo Cesar forced his way through , and Reina blocked an angled drive from Elmander to concede the game's firt corner. But Liverpool dealt with it, and at the other end Gerrard pinged a free-kick into the area for Crouch, but the tall striker was adjudged to have fouled Mauro Cetto.

Two minutes before the beak, Finnan and Crouch combined to set up Voronin's wonder strike for the crucial breakthrough.

Toulouse responded with Achille Emana's overhead kick, which flew wide before the same player shot over the bar from distance. Elmander tried his luck too from outside the area, but it was also well wide.

Keeper Nicolas Douchez took the ball off of Crouch's head as the striker threatened to make it two, having blocked Mohamed Fofana's attempted clearance from Voronin's flick-on.

Elmander collected a booking for a late tackle from behind on Mascherano, before Gerrard had a shot deflected over the bar.

Elmander then reached the ball ahead of Sami Hyypia at the near post to meet a Pantxi Sirieix cross, but Reina gathered it easily as the game dribbled to a conclusion with Liverpool well pleased with their afternoon's work.

Toulouse: Douchez, Ebondo, Mathieu, Cetto, Fofana, Paulo Cesar, Sirieix, Emana, Dieuze, Elmander, Bergougnoux. Subs: Riou, Jonsson, Mansare, Batlles, Fabinho, Gignac, Sissoko.

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Arbeloa, Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Babel, Voronin, Crouch. Subs: Itandje, Agger, Riise, Torres, Alonso, Kuyt, Sissoko.

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Liverpool Catch Another Keeper

Liverpool have completed the loan signing of Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi from feeder club MTK.

The teenager had been on trial at Anfield for the past ten days and has done enough to earn himself a one-year loan deal with the option of a two-year deal.

The 17-year-old joins The Reds from the Sandor Karoly Academy, and associate organisation of Liverpool’s feeder club MTK

The youngster is delighted to be given the opportunity to prove his worth with one of Europe’s top clubs.

"I woke up and went to bed day by day with the thought that I have the chance to became a Liverpool player," Gulacsi told Sky Sports.

"My agents informed me that other clubs from Europe and from the Premiership had been watching me but my desire was to come to Liverpool.

"In March, Pepe Reina sent me a pair of his signed keeper gloves and I admit, that time it was only a very secret dream of mine that one day I would train with him.

"Since then it's like I was in a dream world."

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Carragher Stands By Quit Decision

England manager Steve McLaren has said that Jamie Carragher has stood by his decision to snub the national team.

Liverpool defender Carragher told McLaren last month that his patience has run out after years on the fringe of the England team.

Carragher, regarded by many in the game as one of the best central defenders in the world, has struggled to hold down a regular place in the national side, prompting his decision to turn his back on England and concentrate on his club game.

England boss McLaren has admitted that he has approached Carragher ahead of the fixture against Germany later this month, however the defender has stood by his decision.

"I met Jamie on Monday and had a very good conversation but unfortunately he's stayed with the decision to not be involved with us," McClaren told Sky Sports.

"We respect that, Jamie has been a fantastic servant for England.

"I won't close the door, who knows in the future."

Mclaren was dealt another blow at the weekend, loosing Wayne Rooney for up to two months with a foot injury, meaning the striker will miss several key Euro 2008 qualifiers.

"It's a blow because he was looking so fit and well in pre-season, so obviously it's a big blow," he continued.

"He is an important player for England and I was disappointed to get the phone call but by Monday morning I had to move on. We have always had to do that in the past and we'll do it again.

"We had a positive summer against Albania, Brazil and Estonia (a qualifier) where we gave fringe players a game, and we did that without Wayne.

"We've still got Peter Crouch, Owen may be available and there is also the likes of Alan Smith, Darren Bent, Andy Johnson, Jermain Defoe and David Nugent, players like that who have played for England and have proved that they can play at this level."

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Benitez Says Toulouse Demand Respect

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has said that Toulouse must be treated with respect ahead of the their Champions League clash this afternoon.

The Reds are overwhelming favourites to emerge victorious over the two legs of the third qualifying round to take their place in the group stage come September.

But Toulouse, who beat French champions Lyon 1-0 at the weekend, must be treated with respect says Benitez.

"They have a good team and it will be a difficult game. Sometimes when you are a top side and the opposition is not big, people think it's easy, but you have to have respect," he told Liverpool’s official website.

"We have some scouts in France and we've watched videos. We have a lot of respect for Toulouse because they have some very good players and a lot of quality.

"We are also more under pressure than them, that's normal."

Liverpool are faced with two vital games in less than a week, tonight’s CL encounter and then a Premiership behemoth of a match against Chelsea on Sunday, and the Reds gaffer admits selection for tonight’s game might be made with Sunday in mind.

"All the players will be ready but I need to analyse the situation and see how many changes to make.

"Our priority tonight will be the Champions League, our priority on Sunday will be the Premier league.

"We always approach these kinds of games the same way - to try and win and score. If we can do something in the first leg, great, but if not we know Anfield is a very good place for us," said the Spaniard

The omnipresent selection debate refuses to die down, at the weekend Peter Crouch was given the cold shoulder, this week it’s Jermaine Pennant who is left at home, but Benitez is flippant about his selection quandary.

Benitez explained that decision: "You know we have a problem because in England you can use just 16 players, and in Europe just 18. Thanks to the new situation, we have a lot of good players and I needed to decide.

"I was trying to talk to the FA, the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA – I asked them if I could use 12 players in a game, but they said it's not possible!" he jested. "It's football, not rugby, so you can only play with 11.

"I will prepare the same speech for all the players. They have to be professional and be ready when they are needed."

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Toulouse Skipper Dieuze: Liverpool Will Suffer

Toulouse skipper Nicolas Dieuze has warned Liverpool not to expect any favours on a hot afternoon in France.

Liverpool face Toulouse this afternoon in what is expected to be steaming hot conditions in France, one that the club from the North-West of England might not be accustomed to.

"Given how hot it will be [the game kicks off at 15:30 CET], and the fact we have had more preparation time than them, we hope we can make them suffer," said Nicolas Dieuze.

Then, of course, there is the form that Toulous are in, having picked up right where they left off last season.

They finished third in Ligue 1 on the back of a superb four months, and have already scalped Lyon this time around, in a game which saw Kim Kallstrom was sent off for throwing an elbow at Dieuze. Swedish international Johan Elmander scored the match-winner, and will once again be the one to watch.

Toulouse have also been playing some very effective football, in no less measure due to their coach, Elie Baup.

"We have great faith in our coach, we will follow his instructions," asserted Dieuze. "Baup knows all about European football and he can guide us to something special."

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Coppell Regrets Missed Chances

Reading boss Steve Coppell was left to wonder what might have been as his side missed a host of first half chances before losing 2-1 to Chelsea at the Majedski Stadium.

The Royals led 1-0 at the break, but could have been further infront and were made to pay immediately after the break by goals in rapid succession from Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.

"Our downfall was not finishing off the chances we'd created," said Coppell.

"At the interval we were a bit disappointed not to be further ahead.

"Then they they made changes and that gave the game a different complexion.

"We fell asleep for five minutes and gave away a poor goal defensively and Didier Drogba scored a very good one."

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho gambled by using his remaining two substitutions at half-time in a bid to change the course of the game and he was delighted with the reaction it had as his side registered their second hard fought victory of the campaign.

Mourinho said: "We made changes and the players were brave enough to accept the risk of the way we played.

"The reaction was amazing. I just feel sorry we didn't score a third.

"As on Sunday we had to suffer, but six points in two games is a good start for us. This is a very good place to win as Reading are a very difficult side."

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Inter After Young Arsenal Striker

The Nerazzurri have been reported to be following Bendtner after attracting their interest in the past weeks.

Nicklas Bendtner could become the latest important discovery of Arsene Wenger as the young Danish attacker has been linked to a move to Inter by the Italian daily sports newspaper 'Corriere dello Sport'.

The 19-year-old played in the first English Premier League matchday last week for the Gunners against Fulham and Massimo Moratti's club is likely to follow the developments of this very promising striker in the coming weeks.

The Nerazzurri are not expected to make an offer for Bendtner yet, but if the player does prove his worth, Inter will be first in line to sign the Arsenal attacker next year when the transfer season re-opens.

Bendtner just recently signed a 5 year renewal to his contract with the London based club and will be one of the most followed young players this season in the Premiership.

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Redknapp Delighted With Pompey Point

Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp was pleased with holding Premiership champions Manchester United to a draw tonight at Fratton Park.

Pompey came back doggedly from a goal behind to equalise through Benjani, before defending well to see out the game.

“It was a fantastic performance. I would have certainly settled for a point tonight before the game," said Redknapp.

"Anything you take off United or any of the big four teams has got to be a good result.

"It has always been our trademark. We have a go and that was a typical Portsmouth performance.

"Although United scored in the first half, they didn't make that many chances and David James didn't have to fly about making dozens of saves.

"But I changed it a bit in the second half, pushed Benjani right up front and played two other attacks wide and it worked out.

"United are a great team. But we regularly take points off them here and we were well worth one tonight.

"Benjani scored a great equaliser and the crowd love him for his work-rate and ability. His only failing has been scoring so few goals but he's got two in two games now and hopefully can put that right."

Redknapp witnessed new signing Muntari receive his marching orders after two sloppy challenges, and his suspension has reduced Redknapp’s squad even further for the weekend game against Bolton.

"We are now down to 16 players for next Saturday with Sol Campbell and Noe Pamarot (hamstring) struggling and Linvoy Primus miles away at the moment in his recovery.

"We will miss Muntari as well. It was two yellow cards, the first an innocuous trip when he chased Ronaldo and later when he went in a bit late.

"He'll have to watch it in English football," commented Redknapp.

On the incident that saw Cristiano Ronaldo sent off, Redknapp only said: "I saw a red card flourished and just hoped it wasn't another one for us."

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Neville Backs Johnson To Replace Crocked Rooney

Everton skipper Phil Neville believes Andrew Johnson can fill the void left by Wayne Rooney in the English national team.

Wayne Rooney will be out for around two months with a hairline metatarsal fracture, something that has both Manchester United and England worried.

While United will use Tevez instead, it is unclear who exactly will fill Rooney's international shoes. Former Red Devil Phil Neville believes team-mate Andrew Johnson can do the business.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of talk about him playing for England next week now," he said. "I'm sure he would have played in the summer if he hadn't been injured.

"He has carried on from where he left off last season - he terrifies defenders.

"He's not just a goalscorer; his workrate is an example to every young striker in the game. He typified our spirit and work ethic. It starts from the front - and he's up there with the best."

The likes of Jermain Defoe, Dean Ashton and Darren Bent are also in the fray, but Johnson is believed to be ahead of them in the pecking order.

"I think he has come back and improved on his link-up play, his touch, awareness and passing," continued Neville.

"He has gone up a notch or two and he has brought the confidence from last season into this. All that's missing is a goal - and I'm sure that will come.

"There were a few England strikers on show, but he really stood out. There are some good England strikers about, and I don't think we should be worried. We have a friendly against Germany - and it's the perfect time for Bent, Johnson and Defoe to be tested."

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Ferguson: Unfortunate Not To Take Three Points, Ronaldo Fell Into Trap

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson remained positive despite his side again dropping points and Cristiano Ronaldo being sent off.

United have made the worst start to a Premiership campaign for eight years, but on that occasion they emerged with the treble at the end of the season.

Tonight at Portsmouth, United showed moments of brilliance but were again unable to convert their chances.

Ferguson believes that there were plenty of positives to be taken out of this match, despite languishing four points behind Chelsea at this early stage.

"We played some fantastic football at times, but we were wasteful with our chances," he told MUTV. "But we were unfortunate not to take all three points.

"We had to contend with Portsmouth's physical approach. They got got stuck in and the crowd gets behind them. It's a great support at Fratton Park. It was a fantastic header, but their goal was out of the blue. We were wasteful with our chances after that and it was a disappointing result."

The manager was also impressed by Carlos Tevez on his debut for United.

"He was absolutely terrific. He made a great contribution, hopefully he's fit and ready for Sunday.”

The game was soured somewhat towards the end when Portsmouth had Muntari sent off, then moments later Ronaldo was given his marching orders after allegedly head-butting Richard Hughes.

Ferguson believes that Ronaldo was lured into the action by the Portsmouth players.

“I've looked at the replay a few times now and there's nothing conclusive - you can't really see anything.

"I believe he was provoked and he fell for it. Steve Bennett sent him off at City [in January 2006] and he will have loved the opportunity to send him off again.

"Cristiano was simply responsible for falling into a trap of intimidation. It happened to him a few times during the game and he's only himself to blame. It left us with ten men and now we're going to miss him for three games. It's a big blow.

"You get provoked and you have got to have the calmness to just remind yourself you're a better player than these players and that is why they are doing it," he said. "He has fallen into the trap and paid the penalty for it.

"[If you react] you have no recourse. For instance, Paul Scholes last season against Liverpool raised his hands, he didn't touch the player, but he was given three matches for that."

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